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‘It’s a crisis’: Holly Springs residents say they’ve been randomly losing power for 5 years

Holly Springs
Photo courtesy of Visit Holly Springs

State leaders are sounding the alarm over constant power outages in north Mississippi stemming from what is believed to be a lack of leadership within the Holly Springs Utility Department (HSUD).

An issue that has plagued residents for roughly five years and was further exacerbated by the infamous ice storm in 2021 is finally coming to light. In a recent episode of The Gallo Show, newly elected Northern District Public Service Commissioner Chris Brown said that the problem is so bad that there have been 133 power outages reported in the last 90 days in the HSUD’s service area.

Residents have persistently complained that the outages have been constant and long-lasting due to an aging power grid that has allegedly been neglected for years. According to Brown, a transformer in the district exploded five years ago and has yet to be replaced, further highlighting the lack of attention to the power infrastructure by the HSUD, which encompasses Marshall, Benton, Lafayette, Hardeman, and Fayette counties in Mississippi and Tennessee.

During a public meeting held at Rust College in Holly Springs last summer, one user claimed that the power went out three different times while trying to register her children for school. Another resident said that his power was out for nearly 100 consecutive hours. Others stated that their power had been disabled on multiple occasions while the sun was shining and no inclement weather had impacted the service area.

Brown contended that the HSUD has failed to send financial reports and updates to the Tennessee Valley Authority (TVA), the electricity provider for 153 power companies, including the HSUD. This has made it much more difficult for regulators to get to the root of what has caused persistent outages to take place even in favorable conditions.

“TVA is supposed to get financial reports from the HSUD and other things to stay in compliance and they just haven’t done it,” Brown said. “We don’t know exactly where they’re at financially because we can’t get the data or information we need.”

On top of customers going days without power, conditions in the service district have grown so dangerous in recent years that power workers from companies outside of the HSUD refuse to assist after a catastrophic event, Brown asserted. Grass has been spotted overgrowing at an HSUD substation, power poles have been decaying in the area, and residents have taken the brunt of the impact with the frequent outages that occur on a whimsical basis.

The HSUD is run by the city of Holly Springs, despite more than 80 percent of users living outside of the city’s limits, essentially giving the vast majority of customers no representation within the utility provider’s leadership. Though users have consistently paid their bills, the services have not been delivered proficiently and nobody has answered why.

After a series of meetings, leaders from the TVA, Tennessee Public Power Association, Public Service Commission, and the Mississippi legislature have concluded that something needs to be done to protect consumers. To solve this problem, state lawmakers are working to increase the public service commission’s authority over utility providers.

Senate Bill 2453 gives the public service commission authority to investigate utility providers to ensure that they are delivering adequate services to residents. If the commission finds that sufficient services have not been provided, the utility department could have its certificate revoked and would not be allowed to provide services further than one mile beyond its corporate boundaries.

“We want to let the people in that district know that we hear them and that we want to give them some relief,” Brown said. “We want to be able to hold somebody accountable for all this failure and all this suffering that the people are going through in that district.”

Currently, the commission can only use its influence to draw attention to issues harming ratepayers in Mississippi and work with the legislature to enforce a change. Enactment of this bill would allow the commission, which is made up of three members, to essentially bypass the legislative process and enforce regulations on its own accord.

SB 2453 has passed through both chambers of the legislature but was amended in the House of Representatives, meaning it will go back to the Senate.

As for the ongoing situation in north Mississippi, Brown is hopeful that something will be done in the near future to remedy what he says is a catastrophe.

“It’s a crisis up there and the people are suffering,” Brown said.

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